Skip to main content

Julian Hall

Julian Hall houses the newly-renovated departmental office, the Chemistry Resource Room, a computer laboratory with 25 computers, two smart classrooms (one with student computer workstations), and faculty offices.

Julian Hall was named after Dr. Percy Julian.

Percy Lavon Julian

Dr. Percy Julian, for whom Julian Hall is named, was an outstanding organic chemist, humanist, and educator with whom Illinois State enjoyed a long working relationship. During his career, Julian published 51 scientific articles, was awarded 93 U.S. and 26 foreign patents, and received 19 honorary degrees. He grew up in Greencastle, Indiana, which lies east of Bloomington across the Illinois-Indiana border. His father set high standards for him all through his schooling. He enrolled in DePauw University and graduated as class valedictorian in 1920. He went on to earn his M.S. at Harvard in 1923 and his doctorate in organic chemistry at the Universität Wien (1929). There he studied natural product chemistry—the art and science of isolating, characterizing and ultimately synthesizing biologically active chemicals derived from living organisms. He returned to the U.S. and accepted a position at Howard University in Washington D.C.

After two years at Howard University, he joined the faculty of DePauw University. There he supervised 30 undergraduate thesis projects that led to 11 publications in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Working with Dr. Josef Pikl, he also determined the structure of physostigmine, a treatment for glaucoma found in calabar beans. A series of five articles reporting the first correct, total synthesis of physostigmine was also reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. This contribution brought him international recognition, because a large and famous research group at Oxford University in England had reported an incorrect synthesis for one of the intermediates. More important to Dr. Julian is that it made the treatment widely available as the substance could be prepared synthetically in larger quantities than could be isolated from beans.

He was offered and accepted a position as Associate Director of the Soya Research Division of the Glidden Co. in Chicago. After a very short time he was promoted to research director. Among many accomplishments, he invented a soy-derived product known as aero-foam which was an effective flame retardant. It was used extensively by the U.S. Navy during World War II and saved the lives of many sailors during World War II. After the war, he succeeded in isolating naturally occurring steroids from soy oil on an industrial scale and then worked out the chemical reactions required to synthesize progesterone and corticosteroids from them. This made steroid treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, and other inflammatory autoimmune diseases accessible and affordable. His accomplishments led to his election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1973.

Julian was also renowned as a humanist and educator, serving many national and Chicago-area civic groups. He played the piano and tennis, and spoke fluent German. He was an effective spokesman for the civil rights movement and remains a revered role model because of his meritorious achievements and generous spirit.

Dr. Julian's first recorded interaction with Illinois State University was in 1948, when he addressed the ISU Honors Day Convocation. In 1953 he delivered the commencement address. He served on the Board of Regents from 1953 to 1967, a period when Illinois State, Northern Illinois, and Sangamon State Universities had a common board of regents. To recognize his contributions as a humanist, educator and scientist, Julian was granted an honorary LL.D. by ISU in 1974.

Eastgate Hall was renamed in his honor in 1975 and a plaque was installed near the College Street Entrance. His scientific legacy in the development of chemical substances derived from plants makes it entirely fitting that the offices of the Departments of Chemistry and Biological Sciences were moved to Julian Hall in 1997, as the Departments moved into their new laboratories in the adjacent Science Lab Building at the completion of its construction. After the remodeling of the 2nd floor of Julian Hall (including the two Department Offices) was completed in 2004, a second plaque focusing on Percy Julian's scientific contributions and associations was installed in the foyer of the 2nd floor.